When Season 23 of The Bachelor began, I had plenty of reasons to kind of like Demi Burnett, a spunky 23-year-old contestant. She was weird and ballsy and her life wasn’t some fairytale (her mom is in prison, for example). She looked like my best friend from college. She spoke her mind. But by the third episode, I'd changed my mind, right about the time she declared, "There’s no advantage to being an older woman" about a 31-year-old fellow contestant.
Since the very first episode of this season, Demi has actively courted an “Us vs. Them” mentality: The “younger girls," a.k.a. the contestants who are 26 and younger, vs. the “older girls." During the last group date, Demi literally threw a chicken leg at one of the “older girls” (again, “old” here still means legally too young to run for president). One of said older girls is Tracy, 31, Demi’s brunette nemesis, a woman Demi appears to pity simply for being, well, 31.
While the Bachelor franchise is used to controversy, this ageism plot is even uncomfortable for a seasoned viewer. It feels particularly low for a show with thousands of fans over the age of 27—the age a girl becomes a “cougar,” according to Demi.
I can’t tell if this ageist streak is what Demi has been socialized to believe, or if it’s the result of some sneaky post-editing and a crew of producers pushing her behind the scenes. But even if it’s the latter, it's proof that the show itself has few qualms about making women over 25 feel like crap. Younger and prettier is always better and more deserving of love, ABC seems to whisper.
During the third episode’s rose ceremony, Demi commented, “[Colton] doesn’t seem to have a type,” she said. Tracy, rising to the challenge, explained to the group that she used to date only the same type of guy, but grew up and realized there’s more out there.
To which Demi replies, apropos of nothing, “I feel so bad for you.”
Later, Demi takes another jab at Tracy: “Being an older woman around a bunch of younger woman–and especially the fact that all of us are so beautiful—I’d be freaking out if I was her.” (Demi, you'll be 31 in, like, eight years.)
And it cuts both ways! Take last season, when producers hid Bekah Martinez’s real age of 22 for half the season—until her big reveal to Arie (who was 36) on their one-on-one date. For her entire season, Bekah M. was presented as “too young” and “immature” for the kind of love she wanted. Turns out, the opposite was true: She’s now in a serious relationship and expecting a child.
I understand the need to cast characters through selective editing techniques. Who will be the villain? The backstabber? The one we all love and root for until the end? This is why we tune in. And I get it, Demi is the villain this time around. But does she need to be an ageist villain? When she's kissing Colton in front of the other girls, touching the night's rose (apparently a big sin in Bachelorland), and provoking confrontation on the daily, did we really need the "age" theme for her storyline to work?
Bachelor producers should have kicked this ageist streak in the butt. Edit it out, pick a different villain storyline, I don't care. By perpetuating this trope on the show, they’re suggesting that Demi has a right to her opinion that "older women" are sad or desperate or pitiable. Let me state the obvious: Women older than 23 do watch The Bachelor, they do matter, and they don’t need any person or any show—especially their guilty pleasure!—that makes them feel less deserving.
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